Bob Fosse probably would have loved it. The director-choreographer-cowriter, who died in 1987, had long envisioned Chicago as a film. And though he interpolated bits of it into his autobiopic ”All That Jazz,” he died more than 15 years before ”Chicago” would win Best Picture. Fortunately, another Broadway baby-turned-moviemaker took the reins.
Rob Marshall pulled the 1975 stage satire — a cynical ’20s tale of man-killing cutie Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) — right up by its vaudevillian roots, and planted it…inside Roxie’s head, where, presumably, there’s plenty of room. The song-and-dance sequences become her own Walter Mitty-like fantasies: Upon meeting the prison matron (Queen Latifah), Roxie turns her into a cleavage-baring cabaret queen. A chilly encounter with jailhouse diva Velma (Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, gutsy and gorgeous) gives way to a desperate danceathon. In the loose-limbed Zellweger’s best scene, Roxie even plays the dummy in lawyer Richard Gere’s elaborate ventriloquist act.
Of course, we’re inside Marshall’s head, where reality and fantasy move to one jazzy beat. ”It was all sort of choreographed as one big dance,” he tells screenwriter Bill Condon on the DVD’s commentary track (extras also include a cut song, the gleefully crass ”Class”). He’s referring to ”All That Jazz,” the movie’s opening number, which cuts furiously — in true Fosse fashion — between Roxie and Velma, but he may as well mean the entire film: From cocked head to pointed toe, ”Chicago” is one big, beautiful dance. And somewhere, Fosse is giving Marshall a tip of his trademark bowler hat.